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The Bible with and without Jesus, by Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler

by
16 April 2021

Anthony Phillips praises help for Christians and Jews seeking dialogue

THE Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh) known to Christians as the Old Testament are the title deeds of two faiths, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. Both have used these writings as proof texts to identify the needs of their own faith, resulting in very different interpretations. This is the subject of Levine and Brettler’s study. Their aim is not to determine what is right or wrong, but to enable each faith better to understand the other. “Ignorance of the other’s tradition is not bliss.”

The authors point out that there was no such thing as a Bible in the sense of a fixed set of books in the time of Jesus. Indeed, there is no such thing as “The Bible” today, but different alternatives. Further, when the New Testament writers quote from the Hebrew Scriptures, they often use the Greek translation, the Septuagint, which results in some Hebrew nuances’ being erased or replaced. And the different order of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures in the Tanakh and the Old Testament indicates an overall interpretation of the collection which colours Jewish and Christian theology, namely, for Jews presence in the land and for Christians the fulfilment of prophecy.

Before turning to the texts, Levine and Brettler deal with the various Jewish and Christian approaches to scripture, noting that for Jews the Bible interpreted is more important than the Bible itself. They spell out what they consider as fundamental differences, the Church emphasising the prophetic corpus and eschatology while Judaism focuses on Torah and this world. They are not, however, looking for consensus, but understanding, and hoping that we can affirm our own beliefs without negating others’.

The texts selected for analysis are all of considerable significance in the New Testament. Levine and Brettler explore what they meant to their original authors, and then what they meant and mean for Judaism and Christianity. They consider the creation account in Genesis 1, the Eden narrative, the Melchizedek texts Psalm 110 and Genesis 14, legal texts reflected in the Sermon on the Mount, texts concerning sacrifice, atonement, and blood, the prophecy of Isaiah 7.14, the suffering servant, Jonah, Psalm 22, and the Son of Man. Each study is a journey of discovery and delight.

This rigorous examination offers a huge variety of conclusions, many naturally conflicting, some within each faith This is to be welcomed, as it leads us to ask questions and through our answers “discover ourselves and our place in the world”.

It is to be hoped that Levine and Brettler’s excellent study will encourage members of both faiths to continue to look at their joint documents of title and reconsider how these scriptures have resulted in the traditions in which they find themselves. But participants must both be mindful of the historical context in which the books that make up the Tanach were composed and recognise that the New Testament writers were “reading and writing from within their own Jewish tradition”. As the authors point out, both Jews and Christians “participate in unfinished systems”.
 

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former Headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury, and author of God B.C.: God’s grace in the Old Testament (Sacristy Press, 2018).

 

The Bible with and without Jesus: How Jews and Christians read the same stories differently
Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler
Harper One £29.99
(978-0-06-256016-2)
Church Times Bookshop £27

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